Although I respect the reasons Eli gave DEH (DEAR EVAN HANSEN) a 🤮 , I wanted to “step into the sun” with a different perspective on my experiences with the musical.
I’ve now seen four different versions of DEH, and each time, I’ve had a different reaction. Yet, what remains constant is I always have an intense ugly cry during the experience. Why? DEH taps into a primal instinct of wanting to be seen by others while feeling invisible. It doesn’t matter if you were a bully, a jock, or a geek, everyone had insecurities in high school. For me, I related more than I’d like to admit to Evan Hansen’s social anxiety and fear of people not liking him.
Rather than lie like Evan Hansen does and hurt the people around him, I made not one but two music videos about suicide while in high school. The outlet of creating those films during those tough times more than likely helped saved my life. I don’t talk about it much, but that’s the point of DEH. Each character is broken in their unique way from the high school teens, the single mother, and the wealthy family. DEH inspires the audience to speak about anxiety, depression, and teen suicide across different perspectives in a challenging way. It should be necessary viewing, or at least the conversations that stem from seeing it should be required for parents and teens.
Here’s how DEH has influenced me over the last three years across the four different experiences:
VERSION 1: BROADWAY MAY 2017 😊
I took my mom and stepdad to New York, and we did five-plus Broadway shows in one week. The show that I couldn’t miss was DEH with Ben Platt. I bought the tickets before Platt was nominated for the Tony, and sadly, he called in sick for the show. Not to take anything away from his understudy, but the show is built around Ben Platt. Without him, it suffered.
How it changed me: “So Big, So Small.” I never knew the story of how my mom and dad got divorced. I was too young. Yet here comes the gut-wrenching song to help me understand how tough it was to be a single working caregiver to my sister and me. The cathartic tears we shared in the theatre will be something I remember for all time.
VERSION 2: BROADWAY SEPTEMBER 2017 🤩
I won tickets to see HAMILTON on Broadway, and while there, I decided to splurge and go solo to see Ben Platt in DEH before he stepped down from the role. It was worth it.
Before the show started, I made friends with a macho dad from Jersey sitting next to me. We both ugly-cried to the point that he gave me a head nod after the show was over and didn’t say a word. Why? I’m pretty sure he was embarrassed to have displayed that much emotion. Me, on the other hand? I went to a bar and shared my experience with strangers late into the night.
How it changed me: I saw the show through Ben Platt’s eyes for the first time. Sitting that close to the stage while hearing him sing “Words Fail” broke me. Not just because of how much the ticket cost, but because his performance is a musical theatre revelation.
VERSION 3: LOS ANGELES NOVEMBER 2018 🤮
I took my girlfriend/future wife to see DEH in Los Angeles and was highly disappointed. If you don’t have Ben Platt in the lead, the one thing the show needs is to be well-paced. DEH is not the type of musical theatre with singing and dancing. It’s soap-box singing, meaning that a character will sing while the others stand around and watch them. The show should be a tight two hours plus fifteen-minute intermission. Unfortunately, this version was nearly three hours. That meant the entire audience was squirming in their seats instead of enjoying what should’ve been a “life-changing theatre” moment.
How it changed me: It was the first theatre show I saw with my future wife. I’ll never forget ugly crying with her and opening up about our adolescence.
VERSION 4: THE MOVIE OCTOBER 2021 😊
Rather than see it in theatres, I waited to rent it at home with my wife. That way, we can sing along and ugly cry into a Kleenex instead of a K95 mask. I had no problem seeing the older Platt return to play a high school senior. His face didn’t bother me, but that mullet-like haircut did 🤮 . The movie is flawed, but for most audiences, this will be their only chance to see Ben Platt perfect the role he was born to play.
Unfortunately, four things do not work in DEH:
- The plot is a 90s ROM-COM with one lie that carries everything into the final act. That basic plot convention works better on Broadway since the live performances will bring audiences to look the other way on horrific plotting. But in the cinema, it’s much more noticeable.
- The pacing. The soap-box singing doesn’t translate to the screen consistently. At times, the movie feels too long.
- “Does Anyone Have a Map” was cut from the film! This song is the perfect opening! It sets up ALL the characters in DEH, whereas “Waving Through A Window” only sets up Evan Hansen. It’s a huge miss and a great song that should’ve been kept in.
- They got rid of the Broadway stars and replaced them with movie stars! I have no disrespect for Julianne Moore, but Rachel Bay Jones made “So Big, So Small” the show’s biggest moment not performed by Ben Platt.
How it changed me: I’m older. As a stepparent now, my perspective has changed. The loss of a child now takes on a heavier weight. I wish I had someone when I was a kid that told me, “Today is going to be a good day. And here’s why: because today, today at least you’re you, and that’s enough.”
So, thank you, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, for getting the conversation started around anxiety, depression, and teen suicide. And thank you for inspiring me to be a better parent and human.